Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Classicist and the Ovid-citing supremacists

In an interview on "To the Best of Our Knowledge," the editor of the classics journal Eidolon takes on USian white supremacists who cite Ovid's Ars Amatoria as precedent and support for their view of male patriarchal power

Donna Zuckerberg, who also teaches at Stanford, talks about how she encountered threatening pushback for taking on this ham-handed appropriation of ancient authorities by contemporary ideologues, many of whom fetishize Nazism.

In the brief conversation with the program's host, Zuckerberg notes that she loves Ovid and allows that he's neither simple nor direct, in fact he's rather nuanced and complex. This nine-minute conversation, however, which isn't focused on the poet, leads to the categorizing of the book as a pick-up artist's manual -- the very trope the poet is using to expose the hilarious pretensions of matchbook-course experts on Amor.

Reading a passage in which the Praeceptor avers that women love to be taken by force, Zukerberg verges dangerously close to taking the poet at face value in the very way she faults the supremacist readers for doing. Predicting a vein of unimaginative male discourse doesn't qualify one as a prophet, but neither does it convict one of the dastardliness foretold.

Zuckerberg knows Ovid is a complex poetic craftsman. The problem with those who cite his "authority" on male-female relations is that his examination of desire in all its self-contradiction makes it quite clear that both sexes are equally the playthings of Amor, and the games played, the intricate commerce of sexual relations, do not rely on any a priori assumptions about male power and female inferiority. Indeed, there would be nothing to talk about if Amor rested on a fixed hierarchy of the sexes.

Ovid teaches us by putting into lively verse an entire dictionary of memes and cliches about love. What people say -- including Trumpian lockerroom trash about women liking to be forced -- is part of the poet's subject. It doesn't make the poet a one-sided USian white supremacist.

One might argue that Ovid's lucidity about the impossibility of his own pretended enterprise -- that there is such a thing as an "art" of love -- is fundamentally incompatible with the meathead sensibility of one who would extract from his lively and witty text a reading as ponderously dull as that of these wannabe classicizing supremacists.

That sort of fatuity is as far from Ovid as it is from the author of Bouvard et Pecuchet and the Le Dictionnaire des idées reçues. Whether there is any common ground upon which to discuss the Ars Amatoria with the Bouvards of white USian Nazism is a question best left for another moment.

For her efforts, Zuckerberg earned threats of brutal violence to herself and her family. The gap between the literal and the literary reading of a text can be a perilous one, as this text's own author was to learn.

No comments:

Post a Comment